24. Sexual Morality: From Discipline to Dogma and Back Again (it’s just a Time Warp…)

It’s time to reach back to a little bygone culture of the ’70s, when the Rocky Horror Picture Show challenged audiences to step into sexual freedom and empowerment. Although we’ve made sure strides forward in legislation since then, we’ve also been slipping backwards since the eighties into a more prudish way of being in the mainstream. Some of that arises from the over-cautious mindset of political correctness, and some of it comes from the conservative end. One way or another, the collective moral compass is getting squeezed into a tighter range for all of us.

Anyone who’s attempted (or even wanted) to diverge from the carved ruts of our culture’s sexual paradigm has bumped into issues of sexual morality. Hell, anyone who has ever even felt embarrassed or guilty about the sex they’ve had, desired, or even fantasized about, has come face to face with it. (I’ve certainly had my own rodeo in this realm, and I’m one of the “tamer” wild mustangs!)

How often do we stop short in the moment and question these deep-seated sensations and emotions? These exist on the most intimate levels of our lives, whispering quietly into our deepest personal conscience, yet they rarely see the light of day.

Because sexual morality (like all morality) goes so deeply inside of us, it’s important to thoroughly unpack the concept so we can peek into the forces that shape our inner attitudes and outer behavior in the sexual realm. This way, we can keep moving toward clearer views of what sexuality really is, versus all the ideas we’ve adopted from the world around us, because that is not freedom (and it’s not too much fun, either). The conversation begins with an understanding of the bigger picture of morality itself.

So where does morality come from? Is it inherent to our very humanity, or is it optional? Are your own morals even really your own, or are they hand-me-downs from the culture that raised you? Would you like to take charge on this level? Do you need to take charge on this level?

Ultimately, morals are the outcome of human endeavors to create a societal structure. The morals themselves are actually quite arbitrary, even though dogma would have us believe they come directly from on high: unerring, irrevocable, and irrefutable. Others with an agenda may also like to suggest that our cross-cultural moralistic tendencies indicate a “moral gene” at play. And the subtle and secretive life of our inner morality makes these theories all the more compelling.

But, our typically unquestioning “belief” in societal morals (the seamless way we accept and follow them) is a testament to the social nature of our humanity rather than evidence of something inherent or innate about the morals themselves. We, like other apes, are easily trained to toe the line established by those in charge, or in positions of authority. In the moral realm of human society, religious institutions occupy those positions, so most of us –whether religious or not– hold morals shaped by popular religion (the watered-down moral outgrowth of official/orthodox religion).

Primates have a genetic bent for behavior to be sculpted through a social process of shaming and shunning as well as praise and acceptance. It’s in our human genes to develop slowly with a long, impressionable juvenile phase during which we are properly molded into fine citizens. Nature’s got it all worked out for us.

And, of course, religion’s got us all worked up, about sex. How did sex become such a fixation from a moral point of view? I believe it began benignly and intelligently enough, possibly similar to the way the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers regarded sex. In ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, sex was respected as something with a unique and powerful energy –one of the bodily pleasures that could be used “appropriately” or “inappropriately” because of that quality. From this perspective, it would have been handled as a discipline. And this is where things get interesting.

My partner recently said, “morality is the stillborn child of real disciplines focused on awareness.” In other words, the morals that we take on from the world around us (like all the spoken and unspoken “rules” around sex) actually began as something much more alive than the mechanical codes of conduct that burden us today. They started out as disciplines to help us navigate complex, potent, meaningful areas of life with awareness, respect, and intent.

But somewhere along the way, something that started out as a sublime practice, alive with a sense of awe, humility, awareness, and responsibility has turned into a cumbersome ball and chain lacking in all these living qualities. What originally began as an empowering form of self-governance became an utterly disempowering method of controlling a population.

The good news (for you Rocky Horror cult fans) is, it’s just a mind flip. Reclaiming that freedom and power is just a jump to the left and a step to the right! (enjoy the vid clip here)

By examining sexual morality (and morality in general) and reframing our view of it, we give ourselves the opportunity to be more honest with ourselves (how do I really feel about any given thing?), to take more responsibility (what kind of world do I want to live in and help to create?), and to be more aware and empowered in our sexual behavior.

Stopping in the moment is my own lifelong challenge, my most potent expression of empowerment against the unconscious forces that would otherwise send me bumbling mindlessly through the world. This is my own moment to seize and become something fresh and fiery…creating my own time slip with a bit of a mind flip…from soulless moral dogma back to a spirited ethical discipline of my very own design. No spiritual authority worth their salt would argue with that position.

2 thoughts on “24. Sexual Morality: From Discipline to Dogma and Back Again (it’s just a Time Warp…)”

  1. I’d like to hear more about why sex takes such a prized position in religious morality, when really all “sin” is this stillborn child of discipline. Is it because of the unique power of sexuality?

    And why are some sins held so primary? It seems some denominations hold gay sex and abortion as far more grievous sins than pretty much everything short of murder.

    1. My next post will explore this a little further, thank you!
      In the meantime, check out this fascinating article: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133
      Looks like the issue of abortion just came to the fore in the evangelical sphere with the formation of the Religious Right around 1979, beginning as a political movement to recruit numbers to the “Moral Majority” (and possibly originally motivated by issues of racial segregation). When Roe v. Wade was passed, it was widely accepted and supported by the Protestant contingent, as they generally viewed life as beginning at birth, and abortion as a “Catholic issue”.
      …somehow god’s unerring wishes keep mutating.

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